Select Page

Criminal Law
Southern Illinois University School of Law
Dervan, Lucian E.

1. The principle of legality: “no crime without preexisting law”. This trumps any other rules if there is a conflict. Courts don’t create crimes. Statutes must be written clearly, and interpreted to the benefit of the accused. 
a.       The Due Process Clause: says that potential criminals must have “fair warning” of what is illegal. Must have the opportunity to know the law: understand what they are being arrested for.
b.      Doctrine of Lenity: statutes to be interpreted in the favor of the D.
c.       Legislative Intent:  Overly vague statutes by the legislature must be interpreted by the courts as to what the legislature intended the statute to do.
d.      The court says that if a statute is clear, you just do what it says. If it’s ambiguous, you look at legislative intent: Read the statute carefully.    Look at legislative history. Look at common law. Look at precedent.
    2. To be found Guilty:
 (1) You must know of the law’s existence.
(2) You need to “know about the circumstances of fact which make the abstract terms of the direction applicable in the particular instance”. You have to know how the law is going to apply to you. 
(3) You must be able to comply with the law. 
1.Actus Reas:“Actus reus” refers to the physical aspect of the criminal activity. The term generally includes (1) a voluntary act (2) that causes (3) social harm.
A.     Common Law.
            1. “Voluntary” may be defined simply as any volitional movement. Habitual conduct – even if the defendant is unaware of what he is doing at the time – may still be deemed voluntary. Acts deemed involuntary may include:   spasms, seizures, and bodily movements while unconscious or asleep.
                        2.  MPC § 2.01:A person is not guilty of an offense unless his liability is        based on conduct which includes a voluntary act or the omission to perform an act      of which he is physically capable.
                        3. Elements of Social Harm – The social harm of an offense, may consist of                               wrongful conduct, wrongful results, or both. Moreover, the offense will                               contain so-called “attendant circumstance” elements.
                           1) “Conduct” Crimes – Some crimes establish social harm in terms of                             conduct, irrespective of any harmful results, (driving under the                                                      influence of alcohol.)
                           2) “Result” Crimes – An offense may be defined in terms of a                                                       prohibited result. For example, murder is a “result” crime, because                                        the social harm is the death of another human being, irrespective of                                        the nature of the conduct that resulted in such death.
                           4) Attendant Circumstances – An “attendance circumstance” is a fact                            or condition that must be present at the time the defendant engages                                                 in the prohibited conduct and/or causes the prohibited           result that                                          constitutes the social harm of the offense. Often an attendant                                                    circumstance is an element of the offense, e.g., the crime of burglary –                                       the breaking and entering of the dwelling house of another at                                                          nighttime – contains an elemental attendant circumstance that                                                      the crime must occur at night.
2.Omission liability: (1) Statutory duty (duties of parents, bad Samaritan laws), (2) Commission by omission when you have assumed a contractual duty to care for another, when you have voluntarily assumed the care of another and in so doing kept others from helping, when you create a risk of harm to another, usually considered manslaughter in the least.
2.Mens Rea:  Guilty Mind: Traditionally Mens rea was defined broadly in terms of moral blameworthiness or culpability. Thus, at common law and in jurisdictions that still define the doctrine broadly, it was and is sufficient to prove that the defendant acted with a general culpable state of mind, without the need to demonstrate a specific state of mind such as “intentionally,” “knowingly,” or “recklessly.”
3. “Elemental” Definition of “Mens Rea” – Much more prevalent today is a narrow definition of mens rea which refers to the particular mental state set out in the definition of an offense. Note that a person can be culpable in that he was morally blameworthy yet lack the requisite elemental mens rea.
   (a) C.L. Malicious- Actual intent to do particular harm that occurred, or recklessness as to whether the harm could occur.
   (b) C.L. Intent- when it is the actor’s conscious objective or purpose to accomplish that result or engage in that conduct.
Purposely. A person acts purposely when it’s their conscious object to do the conduct or cause the result.
Knowingly. A person acts knowingly when they are aware that the result is “practically certain” to follow.
Recklessly. A person acts recklessly when they consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk.
Negligently. The actor should be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk. There is no subjective fault. RPS
A. Three factors come into play when determining whether a reasonable person would have acted as the defendant did:
(1) the gravity of harm that foreseeably would result from the defendant’s conduct;
(2) the probab

    which does not state a specific period of time or release date, but just a range of time,                                     such as “five-to-ten years”.
                                (b) Determinate Sentence: Encompasses sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum                                    sentences, and enhanced sentences for certain crimes. Sentencing guidelines allow                                                             judges to consider the individual circumstances of the case when determining a                                                        sentence, whereas mandatory minimum and enhanced-sentence statutes leave little or                                     no discretion to judges in setting the terms of a sentence.     
            (4) Rehabilitation: Rehabilitation calls for the improvement of the criminal for his             own benefit and to reduce the probability that he will offend again
4. Mistake of fact: A mistake of fact may sometimes offer exculpation (as an excuse) by allowing a criminal defendant some relief from liability for having broken the law. This is unlike a mistake of law, which is not usually a defense. Because allowing defendants to invoke their own ignorance of the law would breach the public policy .But mistake of fact is sometimes allowed as valid defense because, although the defendant has committed the actus reus of the offense, the defendant may honestly believe in a set of facts that would prevent him or her from forming the requisite mens rea required to constitute the crime.
A)Specific Intent:
            a.If the mistake negates the specific intent portion of the crime, then the defendant must be acquitted.
            b.If the mistake does not relate to the specific intent portion of the crime, treat the  offense as a general intent crime.
B)General Intent:
            A)Culpability Analysis: Did the defendant act with a morally blameworthy state of            mind?
                        1)If the mistake was reasonable, he is morally innocent and entitled to a                                defense for want of a “mensrea.”
                        2)If the mistake was unreasonable, then he acted with a culpable state of                               mind and may be convicted.